Press Release

United Nations Department of Public Information - News Coverage and Accreditation Service - New York

ICO/6
IHA/662

25 August 1998

UNITED NATIONS HELPS REDUCE FLOOD CASUALTIES IN CHINA BY ACCURATE FORECASTS

NEW YORK, 20 August (Department of Economic and Social Affairs) - Flood casualties in southern China have been significantly mitigated by the accurate and timely contribution of the United Nations. Specifically, scientists associated with the United Nations Global Programme for the Integration of Public Administration and the Science of Disasters in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs anticipated the heavy rainstorms and devastating floods that occurred in southern China.

In January 1998, the Global Programme in Beijing received a staff report forecasting large floods for southern China. By February, this report caught the attention of the Chinese National Committee for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction in the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The Government soon after issued a warning to the concerned provinces to prepare for possible floods in the summer months. These provinces proceeded to strengthen and extend their dike systems along the Yangtze and other rivers, as well as to prepare personnel and materials to aid any flood victims. On 11 and 14 July, the Global Programme in Beijing sent short-term and imminent forecasts for heavy rainstorms and dangerous flooding. Government action was immediate. Devastating floods have inundated the southern provinces, but the reinforced dike systems have been strong enough to protect the cities, thereby mitigating social and economic losses.

On 14 August, China Daily reported that although the water level had begun to fall in some areas of the Yangtze River, the level was still higher than the record set in 1954, when the devastating floods claimed 33,000 lives along the Yangtze. Further, the China Daily of 10 August reported that the 1998 floods so far had killed more than 2,000 people since mid-June and affected 240 million people in 28 provinces and municipalities. More than 5.5 million houses have been destroyed along with nearly 5 million hectares of crops.

Throughout the period beginning in June, there has been effective coordination between the United Nations agencies and the Government of China to mitigate the flood disaster. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and especially its Resident Coordinator, Kerstin Leitner, has been leading the United Nations agencies, effort. An UNDP-funded workshop was held in June to train disaster relief managers from 13 flood-prone provinces in southern China just before the serious floods hit the region. The Head of the Chinese National Committee for the Decade, Wang Zhenyao (Deputy Director General of the Disaster and Social Relief Department of the Civil Affairs Ministry), played a major role in quickly identifying the relevance of the early 1998 forecast report and in communicating its importance to the appropriate government offices.

For further information, contact Jeanne-Marie Col at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, New York (tel: 1-212-963-8377; fax: 1-212-963-2916; email: col@un.org) or Ma Huiyun and Jean J. Chu, UNDP/Beijing (tel: 86-10-6532-3731, ext. 323; fax: 86-10-6532-2567; email: mhy@public.un.org.cn). The website for the Global Programme is located at http://www.globalwatch.org/ungp/.